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Expanding Access

Graduate school can pose special challenges for students with disabilities. But thanks to advances in technology, new options are available to facilitate student success.

At Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., varying approaches are used to address different needs, according to Wednesday Luria-Appell, Coordinator of Prospective Graduate Student Services.

"Since Gallaudet's unique sign language environment guarantees communication access for deaf students, our Office of Students with Disabilities provides services to two groups: hearing students with disabilities, and deaf students with disabilities," she says. "The technologies used to assist them vary accordingly."

Hearing students with learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders, use audio-taped textbooks and specially produced tapes to help master material. Deaf students with these disabilities use note takers and a variety of visual media equipment, including captioned videotapes, real-time captioning for lectures, and overhead projection presentations.

Those who have visual disabilities use scanners, Braille software and special software that magnifies computer images.

Another strategy used at Gallaudet is to place learning materials on a variety of web sites designed for ease of use. Since flashing elements and busy screens may cause problems for those with visual or spatial disabilities, most sites feature clearly worded instructions with examples and high contrast visuals.

Whatever the technology at hand, students should be aggressive in seeking help, according to Gallaudet staff.

"We encourage students who think they may have a disability to get diagnostic testing and to take advantage of services offered," Luria-Appell says. "It's important to get help with planning, communicate openly with teachers about accommodations and inquire about available support groups."

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